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23rd October 1970
Page 56
Page 56, 23rd October 1970 — topic
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

New taste for old palates

by janus

WHITE Papers are one of the first official signs that something new is happening. The novelty of the Government's plans for reorganization of the central administration is stressed continually in the recent publication on the subject. The first sentence repeats the election pledge "to introduce a new style of government," and the theme is maintained throughout.

At the same time, the need is felt to persuade the public, not only that what is proposed is what they want but that they have wanted it all the time. Before setting out the Government's plans for a Department of the Environment, therefore, the White Paper states: "It is increasingly accepted that maintaining a decent environment, improving people's living conditions and providing for adequate transport facilities all come together in the planning of development:'

THE proposal is not wholly original. In Mr Harold Wilson's last Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Anthony Crosland was given overall control of the Ministries of Housing and Local Government and of Transport, each of them retaining a Minister of its own. On the surface the new structure is not greatly different. Mr Peter Walker becomes Secretary for the Environment. He is to be concerned primarily with the strategic issues of policy and priority. His responsibility will include all statutory powers.

He will be supported by three Ministers not of Cabinet rank: Mr Graham Page for Local Government and Development; Mr Julian Amery for Housing and Construction; and Mr John Peyton for Transport Industries. There are four Parliamentary secretaries whose work will be concerned with the whole range of the new combined Department.

Although the present Government and its predecessor seem to be in broad agreement on the structure, it would not always have been taken for granted. Before a separate Ministry of Transport was formed 50 years ago, the functions that it took over were in the hands of the Board of Trade. Had circumstances remained unchanged, presumably the latest reorganization would have allotted transport to Mr John Davies' new Department of Trade and Industry rather than to Mr Walker.

BEFORE making up their minds on the new arrangements, commercial vehicle operators will want some clarification of the necessarily brief summary in the White Paper. The references to transport seem to be more concerned with the movement of passengers than of goods. It is stated that the new Department of the Environment will have important executive powers for "the development of regional infrastructure and the maintenance of regional services".

These powers are contrasted with "certain economic aspects, including industrial development in the regions," which are to remain with the Department of Trade and Industry. Nobody would suggest that proper road haulage facilities are not vitally important to industrial development. Under the new arrangement they are included with passenger transport, with the roads and with the railways, because they obviously and clearly come within the common description of "transport".

What operators may hope is that, under Mr Walker's wide remit, there will be more opportunity to put the case for land for transport purposes, for vehicle maintenance, for lorry parking and for driver accommodation; and for more facilities to promote quicker turn-round. There is no evidence that a similar hope was justified by events after Mr Crosland's appointment, but it can be argued that he did not have sufficient time to make progress with whatever plans he may have had in mind.

ATURALLY the White Paper has a good deal to say about planning. Mr

Walker's Department will be responsible for what is called the "planning of land," and defined as -where people live, work, move and enjoy themselves". The responsibilities for the transport industries include "public programmes of support and development for the means of transport".

The statement is in conveniently general terms, a multi-purpose declaration which takes its colour from the political party making it. In certain circumstances it could justify subsidies for uneconomic transport services, expansion of State-owned transport and the early introduction of such measures as quantity licensing.

Such ideas are hardly likely to have been in the mind of the Prime Minister or of the two Ministers who will now have a direct hand in the Transport Ministry. They have all at different times promised the repeal of quantity licensing and have shown no inclination to foster the growth of State-owned transport. No change in policy will take place at this level. The White Paper suggests that the move towards greater freedom may be pursued even more vigorously. The Adminstration believes, it says, that "government has been attempting to do too much". The result has been an excessive burden on industry and on the people as a whole; and the government machine has been overloaded. The weakness is said to have shown itself in the quality of many government decisions "over the last 25 years".

HIS is not a party political indictment. For at least half of the period there were Conservative governments in power. It might be instructive to know what particular legislation affecting road transport would be covered by the White Paper's criticism. Certainly the Transport Act 1947 and parts of the Transport Act 1968. A more general accusation might be that Parliament has attempted too much.

Support for this comes from the White Paper. It is claimed that the product of the review of Governmental functions and organizations which has taken place since the General Election will be "less government, and better government, carried out by fewer people". The long-term strategy is aimed at "liberating private initiative and placing more responsibility on the individual and less on the State".

ROAD operators can compare this declaration of intention with their own wishes. If they think that the setting of standards for transport managers is best done within the industry and not by the Government, they will welcome what may well be the official policy of repealing, or at least not activating, the sections of the 1968 Act concerned with transport managers' licences. They may go further and suggest the abolition of the Road Transport Industry Training Board in favour of voluntary training schemes.

On the other hand, the liberation of private initiative may be thought to favour easier entry into road transport. Strictly within this context the policy in the White Paper seems to be opposed to the hauliers who think the Licensing Authorities should be far more selective in their decisions on who should or should not be allowed to hold an operator's licence.

HERE is a wider context. Mr Walker has for his field the environment. However reluctant he may be in some cases, his function within that field will more often than not involve prohibitions and controls. His desire to reduce the road accident rate would conflict with any inclination to allow the would-be haulier his fling without a reasonably careful examination of his credentials.

Even within the old Ministry of Transport there was room for co-ordination. It is ironical that perhaps the loudest accusations of flouting the Ministry's standards on maintenance and drivers' hours are made against operators who are working on the Ministry's own motorways.

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